In 1519 the Spaniard Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico. His band of adventurers defeated the Aztec king Montezuma, thus starting 300 years of Spanish rule. Before that, for hundreds of years, several native civilizations rose and fell in Mexico, and the nation proudly boasts that heritage wherever one looks.
In 1988, my wife and I, then living in Northern California, toured Mexico. We flew into Mexico City, a delightful mix of old and new. After exploring the vibrant city, we climbed the pyramids of Teotihuacan, built by the Aztecs between 200 and 100 B.C, outside the city.
We then proceeded to Oaxaca, capital of the eponymous province. It was, at that time, a small, sleepy town of distinctive old buildings with a charming central square. Oaxacan food we tried included mole – chicken cooked in a tangy sauce of chocolate beans – and their famous hot chocolate, Chocolate Guelaguetza. One day we took the bus up the mountains to the pre-Columbian ruins of Monte Alban, a city that around 300 B.C. had held a population of 5000. We marvelled at intricate structures built by people who had yet to use the wheel (but knew how to write.)
From Oaxaca we flew to Cancun for a few days on the beach. On the Yucatan peninsula in eastern Mexico, washed by the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, this area had been an undeveloped jungle until 1978 when the Mexican government, reeling from an economic crisis and seeing the tourism potential of the region’s stunning natural setting, started a development project there. From the start, Cancun became a favourite destination of tourists. Direct flights from the United States and Canada to the small airport brought in tourists who frolicked in sun and sea before heading back to their colder home. Along a strip of white sand, twenty or thirty kilometres long, a handful of resort hotels housed and fed them.
To this day I recall the warm waters of the Caribbean thirty years ago and the sand, soft and white, that caressed my feet. We spent most of the daylight hours of our short stay in the water or on the beach.
After thirty years, we returned to Cancun last week. The small airport I remembered had become substantial. Inside the cavernous immigration area we waited with hundreds of other tourists who had arrived here on several flights. Thanks to an efficient system, the wait was relatively short.
Outside, my memories from thirty years ago were jarred by the new Cancun. The small road leading from the airport to the hotel zone was now a multi-lane highway. The number of giant, all-inclusive resorts had increased dramatically: Cancun now had three times as many hotel rooms as when we had visited. Thirty years ago we had been accosted repeatedly by salesmen selling timeshares. Today, they were replaced by shopping malls peddling expensive luxury brands of the world.
Luckily, the best part of Cancun had not changed. The soft white sand of the beach and the warm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean were as inviting as I recalled. And so, for the next two days, I spent many a blissful hour in the ocean, being beaten up by waves, playing with family, and feeling thirty years younger.
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